The Widow’s MightMark 12:38-44
And now a reading from the JAT Version:
As Jesus taught the disciples and those gathered round he said to them, “Beware of the preachers with their toothy grins who walk around saying you will have the best live ever. Watch out for those who always want to sit at the Dias, who hound you form money to buy new planes, those who promise prosperity. They make their livings off the pensions of widows. Yes, they put on a good show, with their upbeat music and long winded prayers. Listen, they just don’t get it. They will receive greater condemnation.”
Then, taking those with him, he sat across from the temple treasury in the court of the women. He sat like a judge watching the crowd giver their offerings. Sure enough, the rich came by and threw their money into the places making lots of noise, so that everyone knew how much they were giving.
Behind them all comes a widow. And Jesus watches as the put two coins – which equal about a penny – into the plate. You couldn’t ever hear it touch that sides.
Then he called to his disciples and said to them, “Listen up. Pay attention. This poor widow has put in more than all of the rest. For they all gave a bit of what they had, but she – in her poverty – gave all she had. Everything. She has nothing else to live on.”
Let us pray….
The widow’s mite – m.i.t.e – is what this story is often called. It is another of the flannel graph favorites, right? I still see the white felt back ground with the golden interior of the temple in the middle. Jesus in his white robe with the blue sash sitting off to the side with the disciples. I see the potted palm trees. And I see the woman, humbly dropping her last two coins into what looks like a treasure box. How many of you remember either seeing something similar or even using the flannel graph to tell the story when you taught Sunday School? This is one of the few that I can still see vividly. This, Moses and the Red Sea; Daniel in the Lion’s Den; Sadhrach, Meshach, and Abendigo in the fiery furnace; The Christmas story; the man being let down through the hole in the roof; and the crucifixion. But I remember this story, too.
Partly I thing this story is so memorable because it has been used to tell us, or teach us, how to give sacrificially. It has been used as a tool to make me feel guilty when I didn’t give enough in church or Sunday School; now, I am not saying it was intentional because that is how this story has been used for many years. It is the epitome of the Stewardship sermon – If she can give all she has, why can’t you? Right? How many have experienced that?
Now, sacrificial giving is important. Giving is important, that is how our ministries survive. That is what make them grow and allows us to the That Church on the Corner. We have been blessed by people who have known this and understood that offering our gifts is part of our call as disciples of Christ. They have given endowments to us that are allowing us to get through these lean times when we are not as big as we once were. Their giving is allowing us to do ministry. Your giving is keeping us open to the neighborhood. Your gifts are what keep the lights on for our art students who come through the doors every Tuesday. Your giving is what sustains the food pantry that feeds our neighbors. Your offerings are what allow our doors to be open seven days a week and allow us to be that church on the corner – open to all who need a place to come and rest from the chaos of the world. Your giving is what lets us be a beacon of God’s Reign, God’s Justice here on the east side. Our offerings, past, present, and future are being used to further the the Reign of God.
All of that said, though, I don’t think this story is as much about the sacrifice as it is an indictment of the corruption of Government and church and in the end, and most importantly, I understand it to be a testimony of hope.
In our Wednesday morning Bible Study we have been leaning to read the Bible as a whole and in context. We have been working to take it out of isolation, and read the stories we encounter as part of a larger story. One of the reasons the story of the Widow’s mite has become so popular is because it has been read in isolation. As as story in and of itself. When, instead, it should be read as as story with the context of the Gospel of Mark and the Bible as a whole. If we do that, then our perspective of the situation shifts.
Mark is a manifesto of Radical Discipleship. Mark’s Gospel is the story of and for those at the bottom. Jesus is always among the crowds, and not the elite crowds. No Jesus is there with the sick, the destitute, the unclean, the outcast. Jesus, in this telling, is the embodiment of Radical commitment to God and the ways of God. This telling of God’s story from the bottom is in direct contrast the ways of the Greco/Roman order of shame and honor. In this Gospel the last are the first and the first are the last. The call to become a disciple is to empty ones self of that which keeps you from God, and to trust in the ways of God. We have seen this over the last few weeks when we encountered, first the rich man who could not let go of his possessions to follow Jesus, and later in contrast the poor blind beggar Bartimaeus who left all his possessions behind just to be near the healing hand of the Son of Man.
Understanding that Mark has a message of radical discipleship, then we can begin to hear this story again – new, with fresh ears.
Prior to this event at the temple, Jesus has had run ins with the church council. He has staged a protest by cleansing the temple of the money changers. He declared that the place of worship is not to be a bank that lends a high profit margins, but is to be a house of prayer for ALL PEOPLE. This challenge to the status quo signed his death warrant. How dare he say that all should have access to God, how dare he upset the status quo, how dare he challenge the church council and demand that the priestly class become like the mere rabble in the court of the gentiles.
On the steps of the temple his authority has been questioned. Surely a man of God would not have such hostility toward the temple. He refused to tell the church council because they refused to see.
He confounded them because he told them that people should pay their taxes to Caesar and to give to God what is God’s. He was angry that they sought test him with this kind of stupidity.
Jesus defined radical discipleship by telling them that the first commandment is to Love God with one’s whole being and then to love neighbor. Doing those two simple things were what was required to be near the Reign of God. He blew past all of their legalism and rules. He opened wide the access to God and did not have time for their nonsense.
Finally he is with the crowd again, today, at the temple and he has had enough. He finally breaks it all down. He tells the crowd to watch out for these clowns. They are nothing but false teachers. They claim to be righteous. They are like the candidates running for office that say they are for the common person while they are accepting donations from billion dollar corporations. They are like the ones who claim to wear their religion on their sleeves all they while they make policies that demonize the poor, that cut assistance to the needy. They write laws that turn people into statistics instead of flesh and blood. They send drones to bomb villages in the hopes of killing a terrorist; all the while leaving hospitals in ruins. These priests in the temple are making money from their defrauding the widows. Demanding that in order to receive the right kind of care in their old age they sell all of their assets and become totally reliant on the government’s…i mean the priests’ benevolence.
Jesus is standing on the capitol steps calling the leaders of the land frauds. This is the context of today’s reading. This is the world in which this widow lives. She is the lowest of the low in the greco/roman society. She is totally dependent on the goodness of others. She is very example of who the offering is to be helping.
Notice, that Jesus does not praise the widow, he does not hold her up as a paragon of sacrificial giving, rather he names how she is being exploited by the very ones charged with caring for her. She has given everything she has to live on to the temple – the very institution responsible for her wellbeing per the very same scriptures the pharisees build stumbling blocks with. They are worried more about what is going on in peoples’ bedrooms or if they are eating the wrong kind of food. They were too busy talking about building up walls to keep people out; they were too preoccupied with keeping their status with their corporate benefactors. They were engaged in dropping bombs more than they were about feeding the hungry. They were busy preaching prosperity – siphoning more money from the poor; they wanted a new fancy Jet so they said it was God’s will that the widow help pay for it. Jesus sees what is going on and names it. And he is angry.
Sitting on the steps of the temple watching this happen, Jesus is seeing what Amos saw; what Isiah saw; what Jeremiah saw. Jesus is watching as the very ones he identified with were being used as pawns by the powerful. He witnessed the command to care for widow being broken right before his eyes. As a woman she wasn’t even obligated to make an offering. As a poor woman, even less so, and yet she did probably because if she didn’t her well being would have been ignored. You get what you pay for.
Even in the midst of this even, the widow shows her might. I picture her not sheepishly dropping her penny in the offering, but instead I see her proudly, strongly making her way to the box and preciously placing her coins in the plate. I see a woman with a weather worn face, small children at her ankles. I see a woman who knows what is happening – she knows she is being exploited. I see a woman seeing Jesus in the temple. A woman who like blind Bartimaeus gets it. She understands what this man has been preaching. What this Jesus has been proclaiming. I see a widow who has stepped into radical discipleship. I see a mighty widow doing what the rich young man couldn’t. And she is doing this not out of piety or necessity. She is doing this because she has hope in the promises of God. Her story isn’t a moral lesson to be learned or a stewardship sermon to be preached. Her story is a testimony of hope. It is a witness to the promise of God that she would be cared for – that she is worth more than the world says she is.
The widow’s might comes when she steps into the line of Rahab, the prostitute who opened her doors to the spies of Joshua’s army. Who trusted in the promise that God would liberate and free her from her life of exploitation.
The widow’s might comes when she step into the story of Naomi giving of her self so that Ruth could find security and bear the son that would become the grandfather of David.
The widow’s might came when she trusted in the promise made by Elijah to the widow of Zarephath that God would provide for her until the new rains fell and her garden would grow again.
The widow’s might came from hearing the story of how the widowed mother of Peter’s wife was healed from the brink of death by the touch of Jesus; how a 12 year old girl took in a breath of new life; how a bleeding woman was healed by touching the hem of his garment. Her might came from trusting in the promise of God that the way of discipleship leads to the cross, but in that death will come new life. Her might came from watching as Jesus confronted the very people who failed to protect her; from hearing how in the Reign of God the last will be first and the first will be last.
The widow’s might came from trusting that with God she will never be alone. That with God comes the power to survive; the power to fight through another day; the promise of God is that you are never far from the Reign of God.
So, let that be the good news for you this day.Let this story of the mighty widow give you the power to step out from that which is seeking to hurt you. Let her faith in the promise of God give you the faith you need to take a risk in your journey as a believe. Speak out at school when you hear someone being bullied. Make noise when you you see someone being neglected. Take the risk to meet people you might have tried to avoid. Do not be like those on TV who say that I am righteous; no live like the one who is righteous.
And I promise you, when you do, when you step out like the mighty widow – when you take the chance and embrace the story that is the story of salvation; when you trust in the Lord you will be freed to give fully into the reign of God. You will be able to say – you will be able to live in the words of the 146th Psalm:
Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul. I will sing praise all my life long…happy are those whose hope is in the LORD their God who made heave and earth, the sea, and all that is in them;; who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry.
The LORD sets the prisoners free;
the Lord opens the eyes of the blind;
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down
The Lord loves the righteous
The Lord watches over the stranger; upholds the orphan and the mighty widow, and brings ruin to the wicked.
The Lord will reign forever, Your God, O Emerson Avenue Baptist Church, for all generations. Praise the Lord.
Thanks be to God